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Hall v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

February 7, 2014

STACY L. HALL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


ANDREW P. RODOVICH, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court on the petition for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security filed by the plaintiff, Stacy Hall, on June 24, 2013. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.


The plaintiff, Stacy Hall, applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on October 13, 2006, alleging a disability onset date of August 24, 2006. (Tr. 25-28, 223-229) Her claim initially was denied on May 1, 2007, and again denied upon reconsideration. (Tr. 88-94) Hall requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing before ALJ John Mondi was held on December 3, 2009, at which Hall and Medical Expert James McKenna, M.D. testified. There was no vocational expert testimony. (Tr. 42-87)

On September 16, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (Tr. 22-41) The Appeals Council denied review on July 9, 2012. (Tr. 14-20) Hall proceeded to file her complaint with this court on June 24, 2013. Hall alleges that the ALJ erred by improperly analyzing her mental impairments. Hall further alleges that the ALJ's residual functional capacity, credibility, and Step Four determinations were improper.

At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ determined that Hall had engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 24, 2006, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 28) However, Hall's employment subsequent to 2008, including that at the time of the hearing, was not disqualifying substantial gainful activity. (Tr. 28)

At step two, the ALJ determined that Hall had the following severe impairments: obesity, anticoagulation condition resulting in a tendency for blood clotting, migraine headaches, and ankle swelling. (Tr. 28-29) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than a minimal limitation in Hall's ability to engage in work activity. (Tr. 28) He also found that Hall's mental impairments did not cause more than minimal limitations in her ability to perform basic mental work activities, so they were not severe. (Tr. 29) In considering the four functional areas, the ALJ found that Hall had no restrictions in activities of daily living and that she was able to perform personal care tasks, including household chores, without reminders, and had no problems handling her personal finances. (Tr. 29) The ALJ found that Hall had mild limitations in social functioning, noting that she was able to drive, go out in public, and get along well with authority figures. (Tr. 29) The ALJ also noted mild limitations with regard to concentration, persistence and pace. Dr. Larson, Ph.D., noted that Hall was able to follow written and verbal instructions and could manage personal finances. (Tr. 29) The ALJ found that Hall had no episodes of decompensation which had been of extended duration. (Tr. 29) Because she had no more than mild limitations in the first three functional areas and no episodes of decompensation, the ALJ concluded that Hall did not satisfy the Paragraph B criteria. (Tr. 29)

At step three, the ALJ found that Hall did not meet or medically equal any listed impairment. (Tr. 30)

In determining Hall's RFC, the ALJ discussed all of Hall's symptoms and the extent the symptoms reasonably could be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence. (Tr. 30) In doing so, the ALJ followed a two-step process: first determining whether there could be a medically acceptable basis for her complaints, and second evaluating the "intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the claimant's symptoms" to determine if they limited her work ability. (Tr. 30) The ALJ found that Hall's testimony of pain, other symptoms, and functional limitation were not credible when compared against the objective evidence and evaluated using the factors in SSR 96-7p. (Tr. 30) The ALJ determined that Hall had the RFC to do "light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with a sit/stand option and not requiring climbing of ladders ropes of scaffolds; or more than moderate exposure to cutting situations or sharp objects." (Tr. 30)

In his RFC analysis, the ALJ provided a brief summary of Hall's medical history. (Tr. 30-31) He noted that emergency room notes from December 25, 2009 reflected Hall's complaints of shortness of breath and chest pain. Hall also reported that she had been working at a desk job until recently laid off and that she currently was working an evening shift at Wal-Mart, a job she described as too physically taxing. (Tr. 30) The examining physician stated that Hall's headaches could be related to a Nitroglycerin patch which she ordered removed. (Tr. 30)

The ALJ next explained that records received after the hearing did not reduce Hall's RFC. (Tr. 30) The test of her lower left extremity performed on April 10, 2008 did not show deep vein thrombosis, and Dr. Rosenberg, Hall's treating physician, had released her to work without restrictions on September 8, 2008. (Tr. 30)

The reviewing DDS physician concluded that Hall could perform medium work. (Tr. 31) However, the ALJ gave this opinion reduced weight because it was reached without the more extensive record made available to the medical expert. (Tr. 31) The ALJ adopted the opinion of a state agency psychologist who concluded on April 30, 2007 that Hall had an affective disorder that was not a severe impairment, noting that it was consistent with the medical and other evidence, including recent treatment notes and testimony. (Tr. 31)

The ALJ then explained that Hall had begun treatment at the Ben Gordon Center in November 2008 and saw a psychiatrist twice and a therapist twice for major depression and panic disorders. (Tr. 31) The ALJ stated that a worsening in Hall's mental condition because of her mother's illness and death were understandable. (Tr. 31) The ALJ noted that Hall had experienced depression and panic attacks and that she had been hospitalized for suicide attempts on five occasions. (Tr. 31) The ALJ also noted that Hall's reported medical history included congestive heart failure, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, migraine headaches, protein deficiencies, and deep vein thrombosis in 2002 and 2006. (Tr. 31) On November 9, 2009, Hall was assessed with a global assessment of functioning (GAF) score of 40, and on ...

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